Journal Article

Seduction on the Waterfront: German Merchant Sailors, Masculinity and the ‘<i>Brücke zu Heimat’</i> in New York and Buenos Aires, 1884–1914

David Brandon Dennis

in German History

Volume 29, issue 2, pages 175-201
Published in print June 2011 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online June 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Seduction on the Waterfront: German Merchant Sailors, Masculinity and the ‘Brücke zu Heimat’ in New York and Buenos Aires, 1884–1914

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Between its inception in 1884/85 and the outbreak of world war in 1914, the Protestant Deutsche Seemannsmission problematized masculinity and national belonging among German merchant mariners. Sailors’ missionaries and their supporters aimed to refashion dissolute mariners into reliable German men by exporting the nation overseas along a ‘Brücke zu Heimat’. In doing so, they created a global network of missionary stations, focused above all on port cities involved in the busy Atlantic trade. Understanding mariners as Germany's ‘prodigal sons’, they built sailors’ homes, in which they hoped to counteract the ‘seductions’ of the foreign port city and reconcile sailors to family and fatherland. This image of masculinity resonated with state officials, shipping firms and a broader German public who were concerned about the rise of maritime labour unrest during the 1890s and its potentially detrimental impact on German expansion in world trade and politics. This article examines how gender, particularly conceptions of masculinity, shaped the rhetoric and practices of the Seemannsmission. It draws upon examples from the missionary stations in New York and Buenos Aires, two of this period's busiest ports for German merchant shipping. The history of the Seemannsmission underlines the production of Heimat culture in a global context. It also reveals a spatial ordering of masculine ideals in Wilhelmine Germany: real men had to be rooted in the nation. Finally, it suggests that gender was a powerful agent in constituting national boundaries in an era of increasing transnational mobility.

Keywords: Deutsche Seemannsmission; German merchant marine; Heimat; masculinity; sexuality; transnational mobility

Journal Article.  13428 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: European History

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